Matt tried to protest. He thought I needed to process what was happening, and maybe he was right. But I didn’t have the time. Duncan took my hand and helped me to my feet. Tove opened the bedroom door to leave, but he stepped aside, letting Finn come into the room.
“Princess,” Finn said, his dark eyes on me. “I came to see if you were alright.”
“Yes.” I smoothed out my black dress, wrinkled from me sitting on the floor for so long.
“I’m going to talk to Thomas,” Tove said.
“I’ll wait outside for you,” Duncan offered. He gave me a small smile before hurrying out after Tove.
Matt, however, stood next to me. His arms were crossed firmly over his chest, and his blue eyes were like ice as he stared at Finn. I was actually grateful for Matt’s distrust. It used to be that I would kill to get a moment alone with Finn, but now I had no idea what to say to him anymore.
“I’m sorry to hear about your mother,” Finn said simply.
“Thank you.” I wiped at my eyes again. I’d stopped crying a while ago, but my cheeks were still sticky and damp from tears.
“She was a great Queen,” Finn said, his words carefully measured. “As you will be.”
“We have yet to see what kind of Queen I will be.” I ran a hand through my curls and gave him a thin smile. “I have much to do before I am to be Queen, and I’m sorry, but I really must get to it now.”
“Yes, of course.” Finn lowered his eyes, but not before I saw the hurt flash in them for a moment. He’d grown accustomed to me turning to him for comfort, but I didn’t need him anymore. “I didn’t mean to keep you.”
“It’s quite alright,” I said and turned to Matt. “Will you accompany me?”
“What?” Matt sounded surprised, probably because I hardly asked him to do anything with me anymore. So much of what I did involved the business of the palace, and I couldn’t let a mänsklig tag along with me.
“I’m going down to the library,” I clarified. “Would you come with me?”
“Yeah, sure,” Matt nodded, almost eagerly. “I’d love to help you any way I can.”
Matt and I left his room, but Finn walked with us because he was going in the same direction. The trackers were doing most of their training in the first floor ballroom since it had the most space. Tove had already gone down to work with them, but Duncan had waited for us.
“How is the training coming?” I asked Finn, since he was beside me, and I needed to fill the space with something.
“It’s going as well as can be expected,” Finn said. “They are learning quickly, which is good.”
“Is Loki being of any help?” I asked, and Finn stiffened at the mention of Loki’s name.
“Yes, surprisingly.” Finn scratched at his temple and seemed reluctant to say anything nice about Loki. “He is much stronger than our trackers, but he’s done a fine job of teaching them how to maneuver. We will be unable to beat the Vittra hobgoblins with our strength, but we have the upper hand with our wits.”
“Good,” I nodded. “You know we only have a few days until the Vittra will come.”
“Yes,” Finn said. “We will work overtime until then.”
“Don’t overwork them,” I said.
“I will try not to.”
“And…” I paused, thinking of exactly how I wanted to phrase it. “If they can’t do it, if you don’t honestly believe they stand a chance against the Vittra, do not let them fight.”
“They stand a chance,” Finn said, slightly offended.
“No, Finn, listen to me.” I stopped and touched his arm, so he would stop and face me. His dark eyes still smoldered with something, but I refused to acknowledge it. “If our Trylle army cannot win against the Vittra, do not send them to fight. I will not let them all go on a suicide mission. Do you understand?”
“Some lives will be lost, Princess,” Finn answered cautiously.
“I know,” I admitted, hating that it was true. “But it is only worth losing some lives if we can win, otherwise the lives were lost for nothing.”
“What do you propose we do then?” Finn asked. “If the troops aren’t ready to fight the Vittra, what will you have us do?”
“You will do nothing,” I said. “I will take care of this.”
“Wendy,” Matt said. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t worry about it.” I started walking again, and they followed more slowly behind me. “I will handle things if it comes to that, but until then, we will continue with the plan. We will ready ourselves for war.”
I marched ahead, walking faster so I didn’t have to argue with Matt or Finn. Both of them wanted to protect me, but they couldn’t. Not anymore.
On the way to the library, we went past the ballroom. Finn went inside to finish the training, and I glanced in. All the trackers were sitting on the floor in a semi-circle around Tove and Loki. They were both talking, explaining what would need to be done.
“Should I go in with them?” Duncan asked, gesturing to the room of trackers.
“No.” I shook my head. “You come with me.”
“Are you sure?” Duncan asked, but he followed me down to the library. “Shouldn’t I be learning how to fight with the rest of them?”
“You won’t be fighting with the rest of them,” I replied simply.
“Why not?” Duncan asked. “I’m a tracker.”
“You’re my tracker,” I said. “I need you with me.” Before he could argue, I turned my attention to my brother. “Matt, we’re looking for books that have anything in them about the Vittra. We need to find their weaknesses.”
“Okay.” He looked around at ceiling-high shelves filled with books. “Where do I start?”
“Pretty much anywhere,” I said. “I’ve barely made a dent in these books.”
Matt climbed one of the ladders to reach the books at the top, and Duncan dutifully went along to start collecting books for himself.
While the history of the Vittra was interesting at times, it was irritating how little we knew about stopping them. So much of the Trylle past had been about avoiding them and making concessions. We’d actually never stood up to them.
By all accounts, Oren was the cruelest King the Vittra had had in centuries, maybe ever. He’d slaughtered the Trylle for sport and executed his own people for simply disagreeing with him. Loki was lucky to even be alive.